The Development of Social Understanding

A Relational Perspective

Part I. Cognition, Biology, and Methods

  1. Jeremy I. M. Carpendale1,
  2. Charlie Lewis2

Published Online: 20 SEP 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470880166.hlsd001017

The Handbook of Life-Span Development

The Handbook of Life-Span Development

How to Cite

Carpendale, J. I. M. and Lewis, C. 2010. The Development of Social Understanding. The Handbook of Life-Span Development. I:17.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

  2. 2

    Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 20 SEP 2010


Research and theory on social cognitive development across the life span over the past 30 years has concentrated on an understanding of beliefs, desires, and intentions, referred to as “theory of mind.” This chapter describes the developmental course, beginning in infancy, of social-cognitive skills in relation to general cognitive processes, such as executive functions, atypical social cognitive development, research in primatology and neuroscience, notably mirror neurons. It contrasts the current individualistic claims with what we feel are more valid relational metatheoretical assumptions. We contend that social understanding (which we prefer to “theory of mind”) should be understood as embedded in interpersonal engagement, joint attention, culture, family interaction, and language. These processes facilitate increasing sophistication in social understanding.


  • social understanding;
  • theory of mind;
  • infancy;
  • executive function;
  • language;
  • relational metatheory;
  • mirror neurons;
  • neuroscience